A residential developer is building a new neighborhood with an amenity few can boast: every house in the community will be powered by the sun.
Jay Epstein and his firm Health-E-Community Enterprise of Virginia have launched the Villas at Rocketts Landing at Orleans and Williamsburg roads. He says the 45-home development will be the state’s first solar-powered subdivision.
The one- and two-story houses are being built on a 13-acre property Epstein has owned for four years next to his Fulton subdivision. Their size will range between 1,500 and 2,200 square feet and will be priced from $222,000 to $249,000.
Hitting that price range while incorporating solar in each home is a strategy Epstein said helps him stand out in the busy Richmond residential market.
“It will make an impact,” he said. “All of the sudden, we’ve brought these homes down to a price range that people can afford. I think I’m doing something different than other guys out there.”
The homes will use rooftop solar panel systems of 4.2 or 5.2 kilowatts. The systems add about $22,000 to the cost of each house.
The electricity collected by the panels provides power to the house. Any surplus electricity goes into the power company’s grid, and the company pays the homeowner the going surplus rate.
Epstein is guaranteeing that the houses will have electric bills of no more than $365 a year – and electricity is the only source of power in the houses. The average non-solar home’s electric bill is about $2,058 a year, he said.
Epstein has made a career building energy-efficient houses. The Williamsburg resident’s resume includes 800 houses in the Hampton Roads area. But this is his first foray into solar power.
The idea began with a question from his son, a student at Hampden–Sydney College.
“He asked the question, ‘Dad, can we build a solar home?’ and I said, ‘Maybe, I’ll look into it,’” Epstein said.
He worked with Renewable Engineered Systems and EarthCraft Virginia. Renewable installs the solar panel systems, and EarthCraft helped Epstein improve the efficiency of the homes.
After 14 months of design work, they were ready to start building. Two houses at the Villas are finished and another is nearing completion. Epstein is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony there at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Epstein said he’s investing about $1.8 million into infrastructure at the site and expects construction to cost close to $10 million. He’s financing the project with C&F Bank.
The houses each have three bedrooms and two or 2.5 bathrooms. They have large brick porches, first-floor owner’s suite options, and nine-foot ceilings on the first floor.
The location may also be a selling point. The Villas are within walking distance from Rocketts Landing mixed-use development.
“I looked at this location: close to the James, in between two parks,” Epstein said. “I looked at it as a diamond in the rough and I knew it could be a community.”
Epstein said he thinks the solar concept will catch on now that he’s come up with a way to make it affordable by improving energy efficiency. He said he plans to continue building solar homes in the future.
“I think it will take off. It’s a new look,” he said. “It was no more than an idea.”